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Vanderbilt Campus Dining Receives a 2012 Chefs of Tomorrow Award

Passion for fresh, seasonal, straightforward ingredients and cooking; diversity and flexibility of service; and leveraging meal occasions to build community among students and staff are hallmarks of the program.

Vanderbilt Campus Dining, a nonprofit, university-managed auxiliary service for Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., is the recipient of a 2012 Chefs of Tomorrow Award, presented by Olson Communications.

Vanderbilt Campus Dining serves 67,000 undergraduate students and approximately the same number of graduate students. Comprehensive meal plans embrace 19 locations that include meals in a retail environment, to-go meals in campus-run convenience stores.

Vanderbilt Campus Dining earned a 2012 award because of its passion for consistently providing excellent food at the highest levels of quality, value, convenience and service. "The annual Farm to Fork dinners conducted by Vanderbilt are noteworthy, but there are noticeable reminders throughout the campus on a daily basis. In one foodservice operation, there is a video screen behind the serving area showing pictures of the farmers and the fields that are the source of meals served to students," said Sharon Olson, founder and president of Chicago-based Olson Communications.

Additionally, Vanderbilt Campus Dining fosters the building of community by bringing people together in an innovative, creative, proactive, supportive, welcoming and financially self-supporting way. "Nowhere is sense of community stronger than in the new Commons built for freshman students," Olson says. "There is no takeout from this facility, which encourages students to connect with each other over meals."

"There is a sincere mindfulness about connection that distinguishes these operations," Olson added. "Areas of automation exist where they're important for speed of service, but in venues where there is a close connection between those who prepare and serve food and the students; there is a purposeful lack of automation to encourage understanding and connection."

The Chefs of Tomorrow Award, which launched in 2008 as a grant program to assist the professional development of foodservice educators, also recognizes innovative foodservice programs nationwide that have the ability to captivate and inspire those they serve while setting an example for current and future culinarians everywhere.